UKIP has been reaching unprecedented levels of popularity recently. I mentioned this on my piece about opinion polling, but there’s since been further developments in three by-elections held across the country yesterday. All were considered safe Labour seats before the election, and indeed, Labour held onto all three of them. Nevertheless, the results make interesting reading:
Sarah Champion (Labour) – 9,866 (46.25%, +1.62%)
Jane Collins (UKIP) – 4,648 (21.79%, +15.87%)
Marlene Guest (BNP) – 1,804 (8.46%, -1.96%)
Yvonne Ridley (Respect) – 1,778 (8.34%)
Simon Wilson (Conservative) – 1,157 (5.42%, -11.32%)
David Wildgoose (English Democrat) – 703 (3.30%)
Simon Copley (Independent) – 582 (2.73%, -3.58%)
Michael Beckett (Liberal Democrat) – 451 (2.11%, -13.87%)
Turnout: 21,330 (33.63%, -25.37%)
Andy McDonald (Labour) – 10,201 (60.48%, +14.60%)
Richard Elvin (UKIP) – 1,990 (11.80%, +8.10%)
George Selmer (Liberal Democrat) – 1,672 (9.91%, -10.00%)
Ben Houchen (Conservative) – 1,063 (6.30%, -12.48%)
Turnout: 16,866 (25.91%, -25.44%)
Steve Reed (Labour) – 15,898 (64.71%, +8.69%)
Andy Stranack (Conservative) – 4,137 (16.84%, -7.28%)
Winston McKenzie (UKIP) – 1,400 (5.70%, +3.97%)
Marisha Ray (Liberal Democrat) – 860 (3.50%, -10.48%)
Shasha Islam Khan (Green) 855 – (3.48%, +1.51%)
Turnout: 24,568 (26.4%, -34.25%)
The most obvious comment to be made about these results is the fantastic gains Labour has made, which is in line with their increases in opinion polls, and of course, the abysmal performances of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives managed to perform modestly in Croydon North and terribly in the others; The Liberal Democrats were wiped out across the board. Coming 8th in Rotherham… I may have underestimated just how unpopular the party is right now. Supposedly no major party has ever survived such a poor by-election result. Time will tell.
But back on topic, I think UKIP will be very happy with this result. Coming second twice and then third is an incredible result for the party, and could indicate an approaching breakthrough into the House of Commons one day. However, it could also be attributed to a phenomena known as ‘protest votes’, where the electorate do not want to vote for the current government, but are also wary of the opposition who are still fresh in their minds after previously being in government, so third parties tend to perform disproportionately well. The Liberal Democrats have historically taken these votes, but now they are in government voters have sought out other parties. This may explain Respect’s victory earlier this year in a by-election.
These ‘protest parties’ tend to do modestly well in national elections but rarely repeat their peaks during by-elections. While UKIP have done extraordinarily well in some of these by-elections, in several they’ve not even kept hold of their deposit. In short, it’s difficult to say whether these results mean UKIP is heading towards their first seats in parliament; they are certainly good news for the party, but don’t indicate that UKIP has broken into national politics quite yet.